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As Homicides Leave Behind Families in Pain, Chicago Nonprofit Steps Up

In the wake of a murder, shocked and grieving family members enter a whirlwind of police and courts, hospitals and funeral homes. As they grapple with sadness and rage they must still figure out how to get the kids to school and do the laundry. Enter Chicago Survivors. For 17 years, the nonprofit has tracked down next of kin at crime scenes and hospitals to help them navigate those first days after a tragedy. Family members are then offered six months of counselling and practical support as they try to put their lives back together. The services are free.

We recently spent the day with Chicago Survivors social worker JaShawn Hill, whose own brother was murdered nine years ago. Hill visited Tyrone Blake, who lost his son, Tyrone, Jr., earlier this year.

Blake is the first to admit that his son was no angel. “He was a good kid man, he loved his daddy. However, once he hit them streets he did his own thing. Sometimes I blame myself, sometimes I think I let him see too much.”

Blake was on the streets himself as a young man, even when Junior was a young child.

Hill insists that, even if a murder victim is involved in crime, those left grieving deserve no less sympathy and support. She tells them, “This grief that you are experiencing, you didn’t ask for it! You are a victim too.” 

Chicago Survivors social worker JaShawn Hill with client Tyrone Blake. Hill’s brother was murdered nine years ago. Blake lost his son earlier this year.  Chicago Survivors social worker JaShawn Hill with client Tyrone Blake. Hill’s brother was murdered nine years ago. Blake lost his son earlier this year.

Blake says he turned his life around about 20 years ago. He now works as a security guard, and he and his wife have a new baby. But he saw a lot of violence growing up. When he was 7 years old, his father was murdered. He says the violence today has gone far beyond what he knew, even on Chicago’s rough streets.

“Back then it was more fights,” he remembers. “We’d go fight it out—a couple busted lips or a black eye, you know. You might get a busted head but you’re still alive, you know.”

Blake has an idea why it’s gotten worse.

“It might be crazy to say, but some years ago, they locked up a lot of the heads to all these different gangs. When they did that, it’s like no there’s no structure anymore, they’re just running wild.

“Back then, if you started a war, or broke a peace treaty, or hurt some kids, or whatever the case may be, you would get your head split, you’re gonna get a punk in your head. That kept some of these young cats in order. Not saying that a gang is a good thing to be in but it seems to me when they locked all of them up, indicted them, locked them up, all hell broke loose,” he said.

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